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Have you ever been told your character is a Mary Sue? Or maybe you’ve heard someone refer to a character from a book or a movie as one. Calling a character “Mary Sue” can often be derogatory feedback, but what does that mean? This article explores some of the definitions and characteristics of Mary Sues and what you can do to prevent your character from becoming one.

What is a “Mary Sue”?

A “Mary Sue” is a term often used to describe a specific type of character in literature. While there isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition, the idea of a Mary Sue originated in Star Trek fan-fiction. It is generally understood as a character, often female, who is an author-insert or an idealized version of the author serving the purpose of wish-fulfillment. 

This character is usually perfect in every way, plays a crucial role in the story, is exotically beauty (typically with a rare trait like unusual hair or eye color), overly talented in many areas, and has answers to every problem. Everyone in the story is often overwhelmed with admiration for her, even characters who are normally antisocial or distrustful. 

The term has evolved to be derogatory, meaning either an author-insert character or an idealized character who is exceptionally talented, has no meaningful flaws, but may have a tragic backstory. 

The male equivalent of a Mary Sue is known as a Marty Stu or Gary Stu. He outshines other male characters in every aspect, being brave, handsome, intelligent, and incredibly capable.

How to identify a Mary Sue

Mary Sues or Marty Stus are often one-dimensional, flat, and lack nuance. Nothing about them distinguishes their wants and needs from others. They typically show one or all of the following characteristics:

Misuse of “Mary Sue”

The term is often misused or misattributed to characters that don’t actually fit the definition. Some common misuses include referring to any cliched character backstory or any character that is poorly written. 

It is sometimes used as a misogynistic term to label a prominent female character a person dislikes for any reason.

Examples of Mary Sues

There are three categories of examples. Confirmed examples are characters who are universally agreed upon, mildly debated examples are the subject of casual discussion, and hotly debated examples can be found online as intense arguments.

Confirmed Mary Sues/Marty Stus:

Mildly debated Mary Sues/Marty Stus:

Hotly debated Mary Sues/Marty Stus:

How to avoid creating a Mary Sue

When are author-insert characters acceptable?

Author-insert characters can be good in certain contexts, such as the coming-of-age genre, where the story is autobiographical or semi-autobiographical. These characters are acceptable here because they make sense as main characters – the story is about discovery, finding identity, and exploring who you are as a person. 

However, it’s important to ensure that the character is complex, flawed, and has an arc. For new writers, creating a Mary Sue can be a learning experience and a gateway into imagination and writing. It can serve as a tool to see themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Using Mary Sues can help new writers understand the importance of creating well-rounded, flawed characters.

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In summary, the term “Mary Sue” originated as an author-insert character in fan fiction, it has evolved into a derogatory term referring to an overly idealized and flawless character. While it can be undesirable in many situations, there are some circumstances where a Mary Sue is an acceptable character and can be used as a learning tool. To avoid creating a Mary Sue, it is essential to develop well-rounded, flawed characters, with needs and desires, who face the consequences of their actions, and exist in a well-developed world.